Winston Air 2 “Dark Horse” Review

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Photos by Dan Flynn

A great fishing rod has to cast great, but not every great casting rod is a great fishing rod.

By Louis Cahill

Back at, what proved to be, the last IFTD show, I cast the new Air 2 from Winston. I was blown away and I shot a video where Adam Hutchison and I talk about the rod. I will include that below. However, no matter how well a rod handles the casting pond, I will not write a review based on that. There’s a whole lot more that goes into a rod that fishes great than the cast. Especially when it comes to trout rods.

I don’t own an Air 2 but my buddy Dan Flynn bought one recently, after I told him how much I liked it. Dan is one of the best Trout anglers I know, especially on a small stream, but he’s not a gear guy. He might drop some coin on a beautiful jungle cock neck but he’s never owned a premium rod before now. He’s thanked me about eight times for suggesting the Air 2 and when he and I fished together last week, I asked if I could fish it. He was more than happy to oblige.

Real quickly, I’m going to address something that bugs me. I often get negative comments on reviews about people not trusting the review because I got a free piece of gear. Anyone who knows me knows that’s ridiculous. That’s not how I roll and I have pissed off rod manufacturers and lost advertisers for telling them their products weren’t up to my standard. At any rate, I’m writing this review of a rod I don’t own and Winston has no idea I’m writing it. You can take that for whatever it’s worth. I do not accept payment for any content you see here, especially not reviews.

So Dan and I were fishing in tough conditions. Educated fish in low clear water. We’ve been in a brutal drought here in the southeast and the streams are scary low. This complicates things in a couple of ways. The fish are not comfortable and can hear and see everything going on around the stream. These fish are smart and spooky on a good day so that’s bad enough but the low water makes things harder another way. The flows are so low that the lanes of current are really compressed. The feeding lane might be just a couple of inches wide. Miss it and your fly isn’t going anywhere. Getting a good drift in a lane that narrow is also really hard. Try getting your fly and line in a six inch wide lane without spooking an educated fish in low clear water. Not easy.

To get my fly in the game here’s what I decided to do. I cast past the lane, upstream of the fish. I’ve used this technique for a long time but I rely on it a lot more now that I have no depth perception. In addition to helping me get my fly in the lane, this also lets me drop the fly farther from the fish, helping me not spook him. Once the fly hits the water, keeping the line high, I drag the fly to the lane I want. That’s all good but if my line or leader touch the water, my drift is ruined and I’m too far from the fish to high stick. I have to make a big downstream mend so that the line is in the current, downstream of the fish, with just the leader passing over him. The whole thing has to be super soft and I have to nail it in one go. There are a whole lot of great casting rods that won’t do that.

It worked, and I found myself tied to two feet of male rainbow by a #18 fly and light tippet. I trust Dan’s rigging but if you’ve never been in the spot where you hooked a big fish on your buddy’s rod, all sorts of bad things start to occur to you. What tippet is this again? Did you check it after that last fish? What brand of hook is that? It’s a nail biter and this fish is thrashing and shaking his head and headed downstream. As I followed him I could feel the tip of the rod doing it’s job. Cushioning the tippet from the huge thrashing and rolling. Keeping me tight and bending deep so the hook didn’t. You can really feel the difference between a casting rod and a fishing rod with a big, angry fish on.

I don’t know why they nicknamed the 9’ 5wt Air 2 the dark horse. It’s a cool name for a cool rod but when I hear Dark Horse, I think of the guy everyone is betting against. I sure feel like, if someone were taking bets on me or this fish winning the day, I’d have been the Dark Horse for sure. I honestly feel like that rod made a huge difference.

When I cast it at the show, Adam ribbed me about jamming it like a bonefish rod. That’s exactly what I did, without even thinking about it, but the Air 2 handled it like a champ. I knew it could do that but the finesse it showed me on the stream is what won me over. The buttery smooth action and perfect balance helped me make a soft accurate presentation. The flex of the midsection made a tough mend a breeze and the tip made sure I landed that big, angry fish on a small fly and light tippet. That’s a great fishing rod. 

Great! Now I’m going to have to buy one.

Justin Pickett

Gink & Gasoline 

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One thought on “Winston Air 2 “Dark Horse” Review

  1. I own ten Winstons, BL5’s to LT’s to BIIX’s and BIIIX’s. Love them. I have been craving the Air2 since I read all the reviews. But, I had a chance at a Scott Centric at a great price and I pulled the trigger. I freaking love it, and if I can someday get the Air2 I will be real anxious to compare them. The Centric has just been incredible, and I’m betting the Air2 wil match it.

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